Starbucks knows their customers. This much, nobody can argue — given the massive scale to which they have grown. The latest evidence being today’s AP story, Starbucks Betting on Drive-Thru Coffee.

Its once “upscale” image continues to become a novelty of its corporate past. Fewer and fewer consumers now recognize the Starbucks brand as more than the fast food king of quality coffee. This despite the fact that, as evidenced by my reviews, the quality at a given Starbucks is far more inconsistent than the typical fast food chain restaurant.

I certainly lament the many great cafés they have bought out and stripped down to the level of their standards. Yet America needs a business to service its needs for ultra-convenient, middle-of-the-road quality coffee. Even if it comes in a paper cup … and is served in a manner once exclusively reserved for oversized fiberglass clown heads with embedded, unintelligible speakers. And even if, as quoted in the first paragraph of the article, a “double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato” has about as much to do with coffee as a banana split has to do with maraschino cherries.

My hope is that Starbucks will continue to serve the gateway drug to more of what’s truly possible, leaving a sustainable market for consumers who expect much more from their coffee.

Words of Wisdom

When in places like Vancouver or Seattle, beware when you order a macchiato. “Macchiato” literally translates from Italian as “spotted.” A typical macchiato in most areas of the world is a caffè macchiato — or an espresso spotted with milk. Alternatively, there’s the latte macchiato — or a volume of milk spotted with a little espresso.

Some Bay Area locales (like the Peet’s Coffee on East 3rd Ave. in downtown San Mateo) will kindly ask you which one you prefer if you order the “ambiguous” macchiato. Not so in many Vancouver and Seattle locations. Expecting a short cup of espresso, I’ve often received Super Big Gulp®-sized milkshakes full of milk, whipped cream, and a hint of espresso topped with a latticework of caramel syrup.

You’ve been warned. I still have nightmares and wake up screaming.